Obama Administration Promotes CTBT Ratification

The White House remains intent on persuading Congress to ratify an international pact that would prohibit nuclear-weapon testing, the State Department's top arms control official recently said (see GSN, July 20, 2011).

The United States is one of eight nations that still must ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty before it can enter into force. President Obama early in his tenure called for Senate passage of the pact, which last came up for a vote in the upper chamber in 1999, Defense News reported on Tuesday.

"A lot has changed since 1999, and people have not had a chance to really look at the CTBT and understand what it can accomplish for U.S. national security," acting Undersecretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said.

"The International Monitoring System [for the treaty] was barely getting off the ground back then. Now, the International Monitoring System is over 80 percent complete in its deployment and we can see its effectiveness," she said of the worldwide complex of nuclear-test detection technologies (see GSN, Feb. 17).

The system, comprised of more than 300 monitoring sites and laboratories spread across the globe, was able to successfully pinpoint the release of trace amounts of radiation into the atmosphere following the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear energy site in Japan, Gottemoeller said.

Additionally, the Energy Department's Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program has made significant advancements, the undersecretary said. The program, managed by the semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration, is focused on ensuring the reliability, safety, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear arsenal absent any new testing.

"It has come a long way and it is developing quite a bit of capability," Gottemoeller said.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has been ratified by 157 countries. A total of 44 "Annex 2" nations must deliver legislative approval for its entry into force; the holdouts from that group are China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States.

Advocates say the treaty would help stem nuclear proliferation by preventing nations from conducting test explosions required to develop new or more potent weapons. Opponents of the U.S. ratification argue the potential remains for countries to secretly detonate nuclear devices without being detected and that the United States might in the future need to end its two-decade voluntary moratorium on testing to ensure the viability of its strategic deterrent.

Gottemoeller said she has been informing congressional lawmakers and their aides on issues related to the treaty. "I expect to be doing a lot more of that in 2012.

"We're not going to set a deadline for ratification; we want to make sure the time is right. Believe me, I was at the [Energy Department] in 1999 and watched the treaty go down in flames. I don't want to see that happen again," said Gottemoeller, who played a leading role in negotiating the 2010 New START nuclear arms control accord with Russia.

In pursuing Senate ratification of New START, Gottemoeller said she was pleased to see a number of lawmakers give considerable focus to understanding the technical specifics of the treaty.

"I'm hoping that the same thing will happen with the CTBT and we won't have people rushing to judgment," she said (Kate Brannen, Defense News, Feb. 21).

February 22, 2012
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The White House remains intent on persuading Congress to ratify an international pact that would prohibit nuclear-weapon testing, the State Department's top arms control official recently said.

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